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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - March 2004

The national debate about whether the United States should go to war with Iraq has been every bit as intense and passionate as the Vietnam debate was 40 years ago. All the same questions are being asked. Is the threat large enough to justify military action? If so, should we go it alone if the U. N. does not go along? What impact will U. S. actions have on our long-term foreign policy? How many military and civilian casualties are there likely to be?

One question that was not asked 40 years ago is what long-term impacts will a war have on the men and women in our armed forces. While our Vietnam veterans were certainly happy to come home, they were not welcomed as heroes or even thanked for their service to their country. Instead they were denounced, spit on and saddled with the blame for the policies of their government. Inadequate services were available to them to mend their physical and emotional injuries. The reaction by many Vietnam veterans to the impending war with Iraq suggests that for many, the emotional injuries incurred have yet to heal. For many Vietnam veterans, the renewed drumbeats for war and the protest marches against war have brought the return of nightmares, flashbacks and depression.

Some have suggested that it is unpatriotic to be against a war with Iraq and that it somehow demeans our troops. Nothing could be further from the truth. The decision to go to war is the most difficult that any president has to make. Military and civilian lives are at stake, military actions have both intended and unintended consequences. There are also long-term health issues for those in the military. In a democracy such as ours with a decision this important, it is vital that this debate occur within the White House, in Congress and around all our kitchen tables. The only position regarding war that could be construed as unpatriotic is an indifference to war.

Whether you are for or against going to war, clearly all Americans are deeply grateful to those who serve in our armed forces whether they are delivering humanitarian supplies, defending democracy or are engaged in an action dictated by policies they did not determine. After all, the main purpose of our armed forces is to ensure that Americans always have the right to support or oppose the policies of its government.



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